Fifty-five: An Easter lamb with a crooked neck

Anthony Brabazon of Kilruddery Farm, Bray, Co Wicklow brought a lamb called Fifty-five to see me recently. Fifty-five had been born with a crooked neck, unable to stand up.

Anthony keeps two hundred ewes on his farm, producing several hundred lambs every springtime, in the weeks leading up to Easter. The sheep live on the lowlands around Kilruddery, grazing on the pastures around the Little Sugar Loaf for much of the year. He brings them into a large shed just before they’re due to lamb, and they’re kept indoors until all the lambs have been born. It’s a high risk time for both ewe and lamb, and close supervision is essential.

If a ewe gets stuck while lambing, or if a lamb needs to be revived after being born, immediate help can be lifesaving. Someone watches them all the time at this time, even checking them overnight. The stockman watching the sheep makes sure that the newborn lamb is healthy, that the mother has plenty of milk, and that the normal bonding process between ewe and lamb takes place smoothly. If there’s any problem, he needs to step in help.

Most lambs, fortunately, are healthy and normal, and they’re standing up, suckling their mother by themselves, within a few minutes of being born. Fifty-five (so named, you’ve guessed, because she was the fifty-first lamb to be born this year) was in trouble from the moment her mother pushed him out into the straw-lined pen. She was unable to stand up by herself, and when Anthony went to help him, it was obvious that she’d been born with an abnormality. Her neck was twisted to the right, and her spine was S-shaped. Her mother was frantically licking her and nudging her, trying to get her to stand up, but the poor lamb just wasn’t able to do it. When Anthony held her up to her mother’s udder, she was able to suckle normally. But the question was: would she ever be able to stand up by herself?

The general term for this type of abnormality is “wry-neck”, and there are many different causes. Sometimes lambs have been lying in an awkward position in their mother’s womb, causing an odd shape when they emerge. At other times, there’s a more serious birth defect.

Anthony is used to seeing lambs born with mild “wry-neck” every few years, but they’re usually able to stand up without help, and they’re just a bit crooked. He decided to give the lamb a couple of days to see if she would gradually straighten up. He had to hold her up to her mother four or five times a day and she seemed strong. But when she wasn’t improving at all after three days, he decided to bring her to see me.

When I examined her, I couldn’t find any obvious reason for her twisted body. I took “whole lamb” x-rays, to check the bones of her spine. If she had been born with serious abnormalities of her vertebra (spinal bones) then there would be no chance of her ever walking again.

The xrays brought good news: her skeleton was normal. The problem was either to do with her muscles, or with their nerve supply. These could both be worked on, using exercises and massage. I sent Anthony up to a local osteopath – a friend of his- to work on ways of improving the muscles of Fifty-five’s back.

An intensive programme of massage and manipulation was put into place, and three days later, I received a good-news text from Anthony: “Fifty-five is up and suckling his mother this morning”.

Tips

  • It’s common for animals to be born with minor abnormalities at birth
  • With good nursing care, these often improve after a few days
  • Learn more about Anthony’s farm

3 Comments

  • Jacky McCoy says:

    Hi Found your article online re – 55 the wry neck lamb, I have also just had one born this 12 hours ago.. can’t stand too weak in the legs and head tilted to the side and tight muscles. She does kick her legs around and moves her head around a bit. Have been giving her colostrum by bottle today, and she seems keen to live.. so would like to help her. What exercises can I do ? I have been rubbing her neck where it seems tight and doing slow stretches. and it seems to be softening the tightness – any help would be great … ps I am in New Zealand, Thanks Jacky

  • Angie Chandler says:

    It’s been awhile since this post, but I am hoping for some help with the same trouble as this lamb had. Mine is a few weeks old, and our efforts at message and stretching have only slightly made a difference…he is still very crooked-necked, and one front leg also twisted. He walks ok, though limitedly. Can you describe the way of message and stretching that you’ve done? I know the bit of gentle pressure on the muscle along the side of the neck that’s turned in.

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